January is here and all those promises of becoming a ‘better me’ in 2017 need to be put in practice. After weeks of munching down rich Christmas foods and festive party snacks, not to mention drinks, many of us have decided to pay special attention to fitness and health issues.
We all have that one Facebook friend who manages to squeeze in multiple marathons a year while taking selfies in unnatural yoga poses between the races. She does all this with five hours of sleep and still attends body pump in the evenings. It is enough to make many of us wonder why do we not possess that sort of stamina? How do some women manage all that? Factor in the fact that gyms and fitness groups are packed in January as everyone decides to get in shape at the same time. Suddenly, all those good intentions are starting to look like a bit too much of a hassle.
As DrivenWoman speaks for everyone´s personal, unique concept of success, I want to remind you all, as well as myself, that the concept of success applies to our health and fitness as well. We are all different, not only because of our visible physical attributes, but because of what causes us stress and how we manage it. We are all individuals in what kind of a mental and physical activity releases our tension and actually energises us.
Nobody, and I mean nobody, is a superwoman.
When putting tremendous effort into something, it is time and energy taken away from something else. It is all about making choices.
Let´s get conscious with our dreams of being fit. It is beneficial to go back to DrivenWoman My Life Pyramid, which you may remember from your Introduction session (if you attended one). See what we find on the bottom of the pyramid: What is important for YOU? What kind of a psychophysical being are you – what are your personality, your strengths, your talents? What kind of physical existence supports your dreams and your happiness?
Health and physique are very personal things, so let's embrace it from the point of view of being merciful to ourselves. Here's five points I have found work really well for me and I'm paying attention to right now:
Sleep well to get fit
Getting enough rest is essential. We are unique in our demands for sleep. Lifestyle choices can lessen the quantity needed, but you want to be mindful of the quality of your rest.
I’m all for taking power naps, when possible. They keep you focused and refresh you in the middle of a workday. Napping can really boost your energy and help you exercise after the long working hours.
Or, it makes it possible to wake up early for a run and manage the long day afterwards. Your office/workplace should have a couch or comfy chair where you can take that 15-30min nap maybe during a lunchtime or between meetings. Maybe the place is a train or a bus (but remember to set the alarm in case☺). It is really unrealistic to think that people are 100% effective when working 9-12hours a day, min 5 days a week + all the commuting, hobbies and taking care of the things at home – all year round. Taking a power nap is not laziness, it’s being smart.
And if you think you can’t fall asleep for such a short period of time, practice. Here’s a great article about the science of power napping.
The 'feel good' criteria
What kind of exercise makes you feel good? Do you enjoy physical contact, rougher sports or moving with the music? What is it that you need from the activity, what is your body craving for? Don’t go for what is trendy or what your friends are doing. You might want to mix few different kinds of activities, but in moderation.
Stretching is very important for your energy flow. Keep your body open and your spine in shape. Running or gym work will not be pleasurable, if your joints are not mobile and your muscles flexible.
It all boils down to the most important thing - You should feel energised, not exhausted after an activity.
The Ayurvedic principle is about using half your capacity and conserving the other half. Exercising beyond one's capacity creates imbalance in mind and body, and does more harm than good. Yoga is a big part of Ayurveda, which promotes different kind of exercise for different body/mind types.
Whether you believe in this particular philosophy of not, I think it is very important to learn and study your own personal limits and genetical differences.
Here is a short article of exercising Ayurvedic way.
30 minutes of well-planned fitness activity a day is enough if you keep yourself mobile otherwise. Mornings suit many better than evenings. You do not want to mess with your sleep by exercising too heavily late in the evening. Going to the fitness classes and adjusting to a schedule someone else has made for us might not be the best choice for everyone everyday.
You can do sports everyday without scheduling a specific session by walking to places, taking the stairs, carrying your groceries home and not driving. Doing various household chores as a fitness activity is entirely possible by keeping up the heart rate and concentrating on your posture. Also, good shoes are essential. Put that unfashionable back-bag into good use and change into sneakers when getting to and off work – take a city hike!
Slow down when you are feeling slow
When you are ill (e.g. flu) or feeling very stressed for a longer period of time, your body is in an inflammation state. This is the time to be gentle with yourself. Visit a reflexologist or have a massage, rather than doing heavy sports.
Long-term stress makes your body go into a catatonic stage. Eventually it may even change your immune cell genes. This article has some interesting findings about symptoms and illnesses caused by stress.
Stretching, meditation, holistic treatments, slow swimming in a heated pool or gentle yoga are examples of good choices when recovering from illness. Releasing stress, especially long term stress, is very personal as are the causes of it but the same advice applies here. Maybe do some Zumba and have lots of laughter, instead of hill sprints and weighted squats?
The big challenge - why not?
But if you are up to a real challenge – do it! Be it to reach your goals and climb a mountain, participating in triathlon or becoming a salsa master, take the challenge! It might require changes in your schedule, your relation to work and other commitments.
Sometimes it is the best cure for overthinking your job and stop working 7-days a week to take up a big hobby-related challenge. A challenge is a good excuse to refuse from unnecessary overtime at work, wasting time on social media or after-work drinks, which can sometimes derail our lives.
But again, choose a challenge that is for YOU. If it is not a sport you crave to master, you might be setting yourself up to failure. When you listen to your body (and mind) you can set sustainable fitness goals that work for you.
In 2017 I will bring a new type of sport into my life. For couple of months now I have felt that I should pursue a combat sport. I have no clue where this desire comes from, I have no background in any martial arts or combat sports. An interpretation from Ayuvedic point of view could be that the year 2016 was about balancing and healing, jogging in the nature and yoga. Now I am ready to for more dynamic practice. I have this sense it might improve my sense of awareness and being present; in a combat situation/practice you cannot be anywhere else than THERE. Let´s see what happens, I will keep you posted :).
Whatever you decide your fitness path this year shall be, I wish you all the best in your endeavour - and please feel free to use the comment section below for little peer cheer!
Tiia Sammallahti is a DrivenWoman Group Leader and founder at WhatCharity.com.